Eklund Opera season closes with ‘de-lovely’ Cole Porter celebration
“Red Hot and Cole” is a swellegant party, and everyone’s invited
CU Boulder’s 2016-17 Eklund Opera season concludes with “Red Hot and Cole,” a celebration of the great American songwriter who brought us “Anything Goes,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and dozens of other classic hits. The two-act theatrical party runs April 27-30 in the Music Theatre.
“Red Hot and Cole” spans the life of Cole Porter, the talented and irrepressible wit who wrote impossibly hummable melodies and funny, memorable lyrics we still hear and perform today. While the show follows Porter from his humble beginnings in Indiana to the grand world stages of New York, London, Paris and Venice, the production’s setting never strays far from Porter’s intimate Art Deco living room.
“We’re basically inviting the world to Cole Porter’s party,” says Bud Coleman, who directs the production and teaches theatre at CU. “We’ll hear a lot of Cole Porter’s music; we’ll get to meet him, his friends and his wife, Ethel Merman; and we’ll hear stories about their escapades together.”
Coleman says the show is heaven for anyone who’s nostalgic for Old Hollywood or 1930s glamor. The look of the show was heavily inspired by the decor and history of Rockefeller Center’s famous Rainbow Room, a regular haunt for Porter and his friends. Sets and costumes will double down on the rich colors, bold geometry and decadent details of the Jazz Age.
“It was a gorgeous period for both men’s and women’s fashion,” Coleman says. “People looked really good.”
That period sounded as good as it looked, too, thanks in large part to Porter. In an age where so many songwriters worked in teams—one composing the music, the other writing the lyrics—Porter was an unusual one-man double threat … and one whose career lasted an astonishing 50 years.
“His first show was in 1915, and his last was in 1958,” says Coleman. “Tastes change, language changes, and so most lyricists are lucky to last 20 years in show business. For someone to continue writing for almost 50 years and remain hip, interesting and informative is amazing.”
The secret to Porter’s decades-long pop culture relevance was his way with words. He didn’t aspire to elegant poetry or erudite language; instead, he took a page from Irving Berlin’s book, working in slang he overheard on the New York streets and capturing the cadences of everyday conversation.
“When people heard Cole Porter’s lyrics, they sounded so familiar that people mistook the songs for something they already knew,” Coleman says. “He snuck so easily into the American conscience and later into the American songbook.”
What Porter is perhaps best known for, though, isn’t the slang he repurposed for songs but the slang he created himself. Whenever the songwriter couldn’t find an existing word that conveyed what he felt, he’d just make one up—and it was always “de-lovely.”
“There’s this effervescent joy of life in so much of his music, but also a lot of real emotion that’s not all champagne and bubbles,” Coleman says. “After all, if it were entirely silly, it would be gone.”